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Defiant #Catalan academic #Ponsati granted bail in fight to avoid Spanish extradition

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Catalan academic Clara Ponsati (pictured), accused by Spain of rebellion for her role in Catalonia’s independence campaign, was granted bail by a Scottish court on Wednesday as she battles extradition, saying she was the object of political persecution, write Russell Cheyne and Inmaculada Sanz.

Ponsati, a former Catalan education minister who is currently a professor at Scotland’s University of St Andrews, is one of the Catalan leaders being sought by the Spanish courts for organising a referendum on independence in October last year that was deemed illegal under Spanish law.

Also among them is the former head of the regional government, Carles Puigdemont, who has been detained in Germany. In a symbolic gesture of support, Catalonia’s parliament on Wednesday said it backed his right to again lead the region.

As Ponsati handed herself in at a Scottish police station to face charges which also include one of misuse of public funds over the banned independence vote, her lawyer said Ponsati believed she would not get a fair trial in Spain.

“Clara remains defiant, resolute and is determined to fight back,” her lawyer Aamer Anwar said. “She does not believe that the Spanish courts can guarantee independence, human rights or justice.”

He read a statement which also thanked Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon, herself a supporter of independence for Scotland from the United Kingdom, saying Scotland had been “a true friend to Catalonia in her darkest hours”.

Ponsati was later freed on bail at Edinburgh Sheriff Court, leaving to cheers from a throng of supporters outside waving the “estelada” Catalan independence flag.

“Clara wishes for me to state that these charges are politically motivated and a grotesque distortion of the truth. She cannot believe that she is being held responsible for the violence that took place on the day of the referendum,” Anwar said outside court.

“She believes ... the only people that should be held responsible for the brutal violence (are) the Spanish police and the 6,000 state security forces who attacked the Catalan people on behalf of the Spanish government.”

 

Ponsati’s next hearing was set for 12 April. A crowdfunding page set up to pay her legal costs has already raised 165,000 pounds ($232,600).

The Spanish government denies it is prosecuting the Catalan separatists for their political beliefs and says their actions violated the Spanish constitution. A Spanish justice ministry official was not available to comment on the latest development.

Those facing charges of rebellion could be jailed for up to 25 years if convicted.

Following the banned referendum in October and a subsequent declaration of independence by the Catalan parliament, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dismissed the assembly and took direct control of the rich northwestern region.

The political crisis is one of Spain’s most serious since the country returned to democracy in the 1970s.

Puigdemont, who has been living in self-imposed exile in Belgium, was arrested in Germany on Sunday, sparking protests on Barcelona’s streets. He is being held in prison pending an extradition hearing in a German court.

Wolfgang Schomburg, a German attorney representing Puigdemont, urged the Berlin German government to immediately make clear it would not under any circumstances approve his extradition.

He told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that the Spanish arrest warrant for Puigdemont was imprecise and superficial and it was unclear whether it was a European or international warrant.

He said the charges of violence and corruption mentioned in the warrant were unsupported.

Spanish national police said on Wednesday that two Catalan regional officers who were travelling with him had also been arrested. The detentions formed part of an investigation into a crime of concealment, police said on Twitter.

Despite his detention, the separatist-controlled Catalan parliament on Wednesday defended Puigdemont’s right to be a candidate again to head the regional government.

The declaration had the support of separatist parties Junts per Catalunya, Esquerra Republicana and the CUP, who together won a slim majority of votes in a December regional election.

Spain’s Constitutional Court has said that Puigdemont or any other candidate could only become regional leader if he was physically present in parliament and had a judge’s permission to attend.

“The Spanish justice system’s interference has forced him (Puigdemont) to provisionally renounce his candidacy but we will not give up,” Gemma Geis, regional parliament member of Junts per Catalunya, said.

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Spain ready to send in troops to tackle #Coronavirus resurgence

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Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (pictured) said on Tuesday (25 August) that troops would be made available to help regions to overcome a worrying resurgence of the coronavirus, writes Belén Carreño.

He also said regional administrations could make decisions themselves on how to handle the fight against the epidemic rather than have the central government take charge. The government would support requests by regional leaders to declare localized states of emergency, Sanchez said. “The pandemic data curve is worrying and has to be contained. We have to be calm and vigilant,” Sanchez said after the first cabinet meeting following the summer recess. Spain’s cumulative tally of coronavirus cases - already Western Europe’s highest - hit 405,436 after a surge last week, which was the worst week for infections since the epidemic’s peak in late March, Health Ministry figures show.

Infections have risen sharply since Spain lifted a three-month state of emergency and lockdown in late June, but daily deaths have been much lower than in March-May. Spain’s total death toll stands at 28,872. “Regions that do not have enough tracers can count on the support of our country’s armed forces,” Sanchez told a news conference, pledging an initial 2,000 troops would be made available.

“The army’s specific training in early detection and epidemiological tracking includes procedures for identifying risk factors and contact tracing,” he added. Seeking to halt the resurgence, regional authorities have brought back some restrictions that were lifted along with the national lockdown. But some regions, including hard-hit Madrid, have complained about a lack of legal measures or concerns about how to use those available.

Following concerns from parents and teachers over a lack of clarity on government and regional plans for the safe reopening of classrooms in about two weeks, Sanchez said: “I guarantee to the fathers and mothers and teaching staff that educational centres will be safe from COVID, and that they will be much safer than many other environments where our young ones have been in the past few weeks.”

Both Madrid and Catalonia announced they would carry out mass testing of students and hire more staff to ensure smaller class sizes when the new term begins.

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#Coronavirus - German health minister warns against 'party holidays'

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Germany’s health minister on Saturday (15 August) criticized “party holidays” and defended a decision to declare nearly all of Spain, including the tourist island of Mallorca, a coronavirus risk region following a spike in cases there, write Emma Thomasson, Jessica Jones and Enrique Calvo.

“I know how much the Germans love Spain ... But unfortunately the infection rates there are rising sharply, too sharply,” Jens Spahn (pictured) told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

“Whoever goes to Spain despite the warning should protect themselves and others while on holiday. Party holidays are irresponsible in this pandemic.”

People returning to Germany from designated risk regions face a coronavirus test or two weeks’ compulsory quarantine.

Bar owners in Mallorca, a popular destination for German holidaymakers, feared the news would be the death knell for their already-struggling businesses.

“We live in fear here. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” said Gelinde, from Munich who owns Casa Baviera bar. “We are not afraid of the virus, but we are afraid of what our livelihood will be like.”

Spahn’s comments came as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany rose by 1,415 to 222,828, the biggest increase since late April, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases.

Infections in Spain have also spiked in recent days after it ended a tough lockdown seven weeks ago. The German move deals a new blow to hopes for a swift revival of mass tourism after months of lockdown all but wiped out this year’s high season.

There are currently around 30,000 Germans on holiday with tour operators in Spain’s Balearic islands, the vast majority in Mallorca, plus more independent travellers, the German travel association said.

TUI, the world’s largest tourism company, said it was cancelling all German package holidays to Spain with immediate effect until 24 August, appealing to customers already there to return within seven days.

“If I close I will be unable to reopen again...I have no help. How are we supposed to move on from this?” said Antonia Gost, owner of La Tapita bar in Palma, in response to TUI’s decision to cancel all holidays to the island.

Germany on Friday declared all of Spain apart from the Canary Islands a virus risk region.

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Commission approves €10 billion Spanish fund to provide debt and capital support to companies affected by the #Coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved Spanish plans to set up a fund (Solvency Support Fund) with a budget of €10 billion that will invest through debt and equity instruments in strategic companies active in Spain affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The scheme was approved under the State aid Temporary Framework.

Under the scheme, the support will take the form of debt and recapitalisation instruments. The Commission found that the Spanish measure is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules.

Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “The coronavirus crisis has hit the Spanish economy hard. The Spanish Solvency Support Fund aims to unlock capital support of €10bn to Spanish companies by facilitating their access to finance in these difficult times. The scheme ensures that the State is sufficiently remunerated for the risk assumed by taxpayers, that there are incentives for the State to exit as soon as possible, and that the support comes with strings attached, including a ban on dividends, bonus payments as well as further measures to limit distortions of competition. We continue to work in close cooperation with member states to find workable solutions to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak, in line with EU rules.”

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